Checking in with Common Core Implementation in Tennessee

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TN ASCD LogoASCD asked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states. Below is a Q&A with Dr. John Combs, the president-elect of Tennessee ASCD, on the challenges and successes that Tennessee has had with Common Core implementation.

Give us a general overview of Common Core implementation in your state.
Embracing change has been a commonality for Tennessee in recent years. As one of the first states to adopt and implement a value-added model for school and teacher effectiveness, the recent overhaul of the teacher evaluation system, and then most recently, the award of Race to the Top funding, Tennessee has seen its share of redesign. Throughout this paradigm shift, our goal has always been to equip our teachers with best practices and resources that benefit our children. Even though the Common Core implementation doesn’t come without its challenges, we understand that the rigor and depth it will bring to classrooms across Tennessee will benefit students throughout the state.

Where is your state in the process of implementing the Common Core State Standards?
The Common Core State Standards have been fully implemented in grades K–2. Focus standards were chosen for partial implementation in math for grades 3–8 this year. Tennessee’s plan is to transition to full implementation of all Common Core standards during the 2013–14 school year.

What part of implementation is going really well in your state?
We are very pleased with our efforts in grades 3–8 math; this has been the focus of our efforts during the 2012–13 year. In these grade levels, we feel that teachers believe strongly in the power of the standards, recognize the demand for increased rigor in the transition, and can largely identify key instructional practices to support students in that transition. Educators throughout the state indicate their support of the state’s leadership courses and the development of peer leadership roles through the hiring of Core Coaches. Assessment changes, such as the use of constructive response and common assessments, have also strongly affected Tennessee’s Common Core transition.

What are some challenges of implementation that your state is facing?
It is a constant struggle to help teachers prioritize the change in the standards though they remain accountable for assessment results according to the current Tennessee standards. Of course, the usual suspects—funding, time to train teachers, and weeding through the barrage of vendors who all have the “best” solution for our implementation—continue to pose their own challenges. Another challenge has been effective communication about Common Core implementation with parents. In an effort to keep the stakeholders at home informed, districts have to determine how much information is enough without overwhelming parents with regard to what the future assessments hold.

Can you share with us some tools that you’ve found helpful for implementation?
Tennessee’s reorganization of field service personnel through the creation of CORE offices (Centers of Regional Excellence) has been a tremendous asset in our state’s Common Core implementation. CORE offices provide a plethora of resources for districts and schools within their region. We also utilize resources from online resources such as www.tncore.org, www.achievethecore.org, www.engageNY.org, and other state and partner organizations. Also, the adoption of constructive response assessments and scoring guides have catapulted our teachers’ level of understanding. Teachers across the state have also shared that observing online videos of Common Core standards being taught in actual classrooms has proven extremely useful. These videos can be found on sites such as Teaching Channel, Teacher Tube, and Learn Zillion.

What advice would you give to educational leaders working to implement the standards?
Prioritization is important. All states, districts, and schools need to assess their capacity, identify areas in which they are successful, and focus their initial energy on transitioning those areas. Leadership is also key; leaders at all levels, including teacher leaders, must plan thoughtful communication, develop strategies, and utilize resources throughout this transition.